The sun is setting as I order the helmsman to bring the Jolly Roger down.
When we emerge from the cloud bank, the wind pulls free a few strands of my hair — some black but more grey — to dance across my face as I stare down past the bow railing. Even from this height I can make out pinpoints of light scattered across the island. I know them to be bonfires, and around every one motley gangs cavort, lads who will never grow up so long as they reside in this accursed place, and therefore never know life’s greatest gift.
Indeed, the love of their parents is at best a dim memory to them now, and so long as they are trapped in this perpetual childhood they will never appreciate what they have forsaken.
The youths on the island have declared themselves lost, but they are not. Rather, they have been led astray by The Boy. He has distracted them with mad tales of swashbuckling adventure and imaginary feasts and, yes, of the evil pirate with a cruel hook who would enslave them all.
It pains me still that I, who came here only to rescue them, was so easily painted the villain in their minds.
For the ten-thousandth time, I wonder if it’s too late to save these wayward souls. But then I think of my own son who vanished so long ago, of his mother’s fatal despair — and my resolve tightens. How I searched for some explanation, some solution to that mystery so I could make my family whole again! And when I first heard rumors of this nowhere place populated by orphans, how certain I was that I’d find my son here!
I sigh at the memory as I tuck my wayward locks back under my hat. My son wasn’t here — but other people’s sons were. It became my life’s work to return those sons to their parents, so they might find respite from the bottomless grief I know so well. Yet at every turn I have been thwarted by The Boy. He is loath to give up his playthings and has proved his recalcitrance upon my body once already.
Still, even one-handed I persevere.
As the twilight dwindles, something small flutters through the air just in front of me. I swing my hook and pin it to the rail before it can blow overboard, and closer inspection reveals it to be… a single leaf of ivy.
He is here!
I open my mouth to shout warning but before I can draw breath I hear his silvered laughter from above, all too familiar from our many encounters. I unship my pistol from the blood-red sash at my waist and cast my eyes about the rigging, looking for the inevitable sign — there, at the top of the mainmast! The lookout is dancing a frantic tarantella with a fiery apparition; it is The Boy’s demonic familiar, intent I am sure upon sending the man plunging to his death.
In the next moment a flash and a sharp report distract me from the melee, and somewhere on deck a man cries out in dismay. I realize the demon has bullied my lookout into dropping his pistol, and from the sound of it I’ll be digging the ball out of one of the crew under a lantern’s glow later this night.
The laughter comes again, this time accompanied by the popping of taut ropes being cut. The familiar abandons the crow’s nest and with the barrel of my pistol I follow its fiery trail, a shower of sparks that burn pinholes in the sails and leave black pockmarks on the deck. I could shoot, and with luck perhaps hit it, but I know its flight will lead me to a better target.
And there he is! Clad in aught but ivy and bearing a sabre, The Boy flits through the rigging, flying in that unearthly fashion of his — one knee thrust forward, the other leg stretched out en pointe behind — cutting the shrouds and the backstays and watching the lines cascade down upon my bewildered crew.
Then The Boy turns and flies across the topsail, his blade lacerating the cloth. My barrel traces the arc of his path… and yet, while I can see him clearly in the illumination of his familiar’s flames, my aim becomes less and less steady, as though every beat of my increasingly agitated heart is causing my hand to shake.
He’s so small, comes that voice from deep within my mind.
No! I berate my traitorous conscience. This must be ended! No more children lured away from their homes! No more parents left to grieve over empty beds!
Finished with his mischief, The Boy pauses for a moment in midair, chest puffed out with pride and laughing joyously as he watches half-a-thousand square feet of canvas billow downward onto the hapless men below. His whole body is limned by the glow of that accursed demon and I think about the victory I can claim in one quick second. I can free all those children from The Boy’s glamour and reunite them with their parents! I can take them out of this Godforsaken in-between world to a place where they can grow up, where they can remember how it feels to be loved, and where they can love in return!
But, says the voice that will not be stilled,_ he looks so like our Roger_.
All my resolve is fled. The cry that forces its way from my throat is half anger, half grief, and The Boy is no longer visible through the watery haze of my tears. I can only lower the pistol as he flies away, his laughter making a mockery of the love I still hold for my own lost boy.